Jun 29

Improvements to Minnesota’s Expungement Law Provide Meaning to Sealed Criminal Records.


Many Minnesotans with criminal records may now have those records sealed in a meaningful way. On January 1, 2015, important changes to Minnesota’s expungement statute took effect. These changes are aimed at improving past offenders’ chances of obtaining housing, employment, education, licensure, and other opportunities. Minnesotans can now feel comfortable seeking an expungement that will accomplish the true purpose of expungements: eliminating the societal barriers caused by criminal records and allowing reformed individuals to feel like citizens again.

The previous expungement law was flawed in two significant ways. First, Minnesota courts interpreted it to mean that judges only had the power to seal records created and maintained by the courts. However, non-judicial government entities, like the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), also maintain publicly available criminal records for Minnesotans. Judges were not allowed to seal BCA records under the previous law, so even if a judge granted a person’s request for expungement, that person’s BCA records remained available for all to see. According to the Council on Crime and Justice, “[b]ecause the BCA is the primary source of information for employment and housing background checks, most people were left without an effective remedy even after they had proven to the court that their past was behind them and they were deserving of a second chance.” Therefore, the law ensured that even if an individual was granted an expungement, she or he was effectively denied the associated benefits because the BCA records and other records not created by the courts remained public and easily accessible.

The second flaw in the previous expungement law is related to the first; the law failed to recognize that the internet created nearly unbridled access to individuals’ criminal histories once published online. In a 2008 Minnesota Court of Appeals Decision, the Court stated that “[w]ith the surge in the Internet industry, increased reuse, sharing and sale of criminal records is largely unregulated.” The court went on to address the need for reform: “Not surprisingly, with the increasing capabilities of electronic sharing of information and increased, public availability of criminal records, the extent of judicial intrusion upon the functions of other branches in furnishing expungement remedies requires clarification and direction.”

This unchecked accessibility, sharing, and sale of criminal information was especially problematic because records on the internet are frequently inaccurate or incomplete, which could be unduly harmful to the individuals. For example, a business screening service may have conducted an investigation and determined—based on inaccurate information—that an individual was convicted of a felony that was in fact a misdemeanor. Errors like this likely made the difference between the individual getting a job or apartment and being denied the job or apartment.

The new expungement law, dubbed the “Second Chance Law,” addresses these flaws in a few ways. First, judges can expunge “all” criminal records and order other government agencies—including the BCA—to expunge their records as well. This will more effectively eliminate access to sealed criminal records and allow individuals to tell prospective employers and landlords they have no criminal record. The ability to deny having a criminal record without risking one’s credibility is crucial to the expungement remedy. In addition, the Second Chance Law requires business screening services to delete records if they know a criminal record has been sealed, expunged, or is the subject of a pardon. This change is significant, and it will help curtail the problem with business screening services reporting inaccurate, harmful information found disseminated throughout the internet.

Another important addition is that prosecutors may now agree to seal criminal records without the filing of a petition. When a prosecutor decides a criminal record should be sealed, the court is required by statute to expunge the individual’s record without a petition unless it determines that public safety interests outweigh the individual’s interest in expungement. It remains to be seen how judges and prosecutors will apply these new provisions, but the new language provides Minnesotans and their attorneys new strategic avenues to explore when seeking to have criminal records expunged. The full text of the expungement law can be found here; an outline of all the new changes to the law can be found here.

Do you have a criminal record that has caused you to face difficulties obtaining housing, employment, or other benefits of citizenship? If so, Conners Law can help. If you have questions about sealing your criminal record under the Second Chance Law, call 612-339-1515 to set up your free initial consultation.